Inside the metro Detroit restaurant helping empower students with intellectual disabilities

Posted at 6:30 AM, Mar 29, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-29 08:51:31-04

One restaurant in Roseville is making a difference in the lives of its employees in a really unique way.

The workers have special needs and are learning skills to last a lifetime. I went behind the counter to find out more.

From learning how to properly bread chicken tenders to frying them up, the interns at Detroit Wing Company in Roseville are learning it all and doing it with pride.

"What has it been like working here?" I asked Raynard Hegarty, a job training participant with the RSA Foundation.

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Awesome, because I get to make wings and sandwiches," Reynard said.

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"What was the toughest skill to learn but you're so proud that you learned it?" I asked Phoenix Creech.

"Probably doing the fryer," Phoenix said.

"Do you have a dream job that you'd like to take on one day?"

"Honestly, I would love to be a chef one day to be completely honest," Joe Tancredi said.

These students have received training at Rising Stars Academy (RSA) in Center Line.

"They want to please. They're very independent. They want to learn a skill, and they want to do it really well. And then they're very proud of it all the time. So, that that's the best part," explained Debbie Prentiss, the Executive Director at RSA Foundation.

"It’s not just building life skills but also their self-esteem," I said. "Exactly," Debbie replied.

Debbie and her husband, Mark, a former executive chef, dreamed about this. They founded RSA Foundation in 2012. They opened the Rising Stars Academy Charter School in 2013 where adults with cognitive and intellectual disabilities learn culinary skills and more.

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The school now has 110 students, a garden, greenhouse, a woodshop, and even a bakery that supplies goods to restaurants around metro Detroit.

In April 2013, we introduced you to the workers at Gather + Grounds in Center Line, the foundation's coffee shop where students can train, practice social skills, and hang out.

New coffee shop part of bigger mission to empower students with intellectual disabilities

Last December, the Detroit Wing Company location on Gratiot in Roseville literally fell into the RSA Foundation's lap.

The founder and president of Detroit Wing Company, Gus Malliaras, gifted the entire restaurant to the RSA Foundation to help support teaching life skills to these most deserving students.

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"They take their work very seriously. And I go back here and they have no problem telling me to get out of their way. And it's really great to interact with them," Malliaras said.

"So they're not just washing dishes or cleaning bathrooms?" I asked.

"Nope, nope. They are making orders. They're prepping food. It is a full culinary experience for them," he said.

"How does this impact your students?" I asked Mark Prentiss.

"It impacts our kids because there's other opportunities for us to employ them," he said.

I asked 37-year-old Joe Tancredi what he likes about working at Detroit Wing Company.

"It is absolutely amazing. I mean, normally, people with special needs don't get opportunities like this, so it's an absolutely amazing opportunity. I owe Chef a tremendous amount of credit for getting us here and giving us opportunities like this. He truly is amazing human being," Tancredi said.

The RSA Foundation will be employing even more students coming up with two big projects opening in May – a new coffee shop in Richmond, Michigan, and the foundation's very first golf course right behind the charter school in Center Line, Michigan.